Atletico Madrid kept the pressure on Real Madrid at the top of LaLiga with a routine 4-1 rout of struggling Cadiz.

Diego Simeone's team lost to Milan in midweek but made it seven games unbeaten in LaLiga thanks to second-half goals from Thomas Lemar, Antoine Griezmann, Angel Correa and Matheus Cunha.

Atleti's goals were rare moments of quality in a match previously lacking much invention, with Lemar heading home from close range in the 56th minute before Griezmann drilled in from Marcos Llorente's cross.

A slick team move saw Lemar's replacement Correa net a third, with Cunha doubling his tally of league goals for the season after Jan Oblak's own goal gave Cadiz a consolation.

Heading into Sunday's encounter aiming to end a 12-match winless streak against Atleti in LaLiga, Cadiz very nearly had the lead inside the opening minute, but Llorente denied Ruben Sobrino a tap-in.

Atleti lost Jose Gimenez to injury and Alfonso Espino dragged wide prior to the break, with Cadiz starting the second half brightly.

But it was Atleti who struck first – Lemar getting above his marker to nod in from Yannick Carrasco's inviting left-wing cross, his first headed goal in Europe's top-five leagues.

Carrasco and Lemar combined again six minutes later, only for the latter's heavy touch giving Ledesma chance to smother the shot.

Where Lemar's first touch let him down, Griezmann showed no such lack of quality, sweeping in from Llorente's cut-back after neat interplay down the right flank.

Atleti's first league away win in four attempts was sealed in the 76th minute, Correa combining with fellow substitute Cunha to fire in.

Anthony Lozano's deflected cross bizarrely looped in over the bemused Oblak, though Cunha raced through to restore the three-goal cushion straight from kick-off.

The pressure on Ronald Koeman intensified after his 10-man Barcelona side were held to a dire 0-0 draw by Cadiz at Estadio Nuevo Mirandilla on Thursday.

Speculation about the Dutchman's future has been rife following a slow start to the LaLiga campaign that had seen Barca drop points to Athletic Bilbao and Granada in their opening four games, while also losing 3-0 to Bayern Munich in the Champions League.

Things did not get much better for the Catalan giants in Andalusia as Cadiz comfortably kept them at bay, with their misery compounded midway through the second half when Frenkie de Jong saw red for two bookable offences.

Koeman was also dismissed in the closing seconds for his protests during a frantic finish.

A point did at least move Barcelona up to seventh – seven points behind leaders Real Madrid, who have played a game more – while Cadiz climbed to 14th.

While Barca did most of the pressing in the early stages, they did not have a shot on target until the 30th minute, Memphis Depay's weak effort comfortably saved by Jeremias Ledesma.

Marc-Andre ter Stegen pawed away Alvaro Negredo's audacious 25-yard effort immediately after half-time, while Depay miskicked with the goal at his mercy at the other end.

Ledesma pushed away Depay's drive from outside the penalty area, before Barca's hopes of getting a positive result were dealt a blow in the 65th minute when De Jong received a second yellow card for following through on Alfonso Espino after initially winning the ball. 

Salvi Sanchez squandered a glorious opportunity inside the final 10 minutes, firing against Ter Stegen after being played in by Espino, with the ball bouncing behind off Ruben Sobrino.

Depay then had an even better chance to steal all three points for the visitors deep into stoppage time, as the Netherlands international clipped narrowly wide after a marauding Gerard Pique carried Barca forward.

What does it mean? Koeman's time could be up

Speaking ahead of the match, Barca president Joan Laporta insisted Koeman's job did not depend on the outcome of the result, but he did warn that "if decisions have to be taken, we will take them".

That decision may well be nearing after another woeful display from a Barca side desperately short of ideas, pace and attacking threat. Their task was made harder by the dismissal of De Jong, though they scarcely looked like scoring when they had their full complement of players. 

Busquets quality still on show

While many at Barca are seemingly losing their heads, Sergio Busquets continues to be a reliably serene presence at the base of the midfield. The Spain international made more successful passes (77) than any player on the pitch, while he gained possession eight times – a total not bettered by any Barca player.

Demir fails to shine

Yusuf Demir struggled on just his second start for Barca. It was little surprise to see the 18-year-old brought off at half-time after an opening 45 minutes that did not herald a single shot or key pass.

What's next?

Both sides are in action again on Sunday, with Barca hosting Levante at what could be a hostile Camp Nou and Cadiz travelling to Rayo Vallecano.

The pressure on Ronald Koeman intensified after his 10-man Barcelona side were held to a dire 0-0 draw by Cadiz at Estadio Nuevo Mirandilla on Thursday.

Speculation about the Dutchman's future has been rife following a slow start to the LaLiga campaign that had seen Barca drop points to Athletic Bilbao and Granada in their opening four games, while also losing 3-0 to Bayern Munich in the Champions League.

Things did not get much better for the Catalan giants in Andalusia as Cadiz comfortably kept them at bay, with their misery compounded midway through the second half when Frenkie de Jong saw red for two bookable offences.

A point did at least move Barcelona up to seventh – seven points behind leaders Real Madrid, who have played a game more – while Cadiz climbed to 14th.

While Barca did most of the pressing in the early stages, they did not have a shot on target until the 30th minute, Memphis Depay's weak effort comfortably saved by Jeremias Ledesma.

Marc-Andre ter Stegen pawed away Alvaro Negredo's audacious 25-yard effort immediately after half-time, while Depay miskicked with the goal at his mercy at the other end.

Ledesma pushed away Depay's drive from outside the penalty area, before Barca's hopes of getting a positive result were dealt a blow in the 65th minute when De Jong received a second yellow card for following through on Alfonso Espino after initially winning the ball. 

Salvi Sanchez squandered a glorious opportunity inside the final 10 minutes, firing against Ter Stegen after being played in by Espino, with the ball bouncing behind off Ruben Sobrino.

Depay then had an even better chance to steal all three points for the visitors deep into stoppage time, as the Netherlands international clipped narrowly wide after a marauding Gerard Pique carried Barca forward.

LaLiga is arguably harder to call than ever before heading into 2021-22 – Barcelona no longer have Lionel Messi to guide the way and Real Madrid have seen significant upheaval, so surely the smart money is on defending champions Atletico Madrid?

Diego Simeone's men won the title in 2020-21 after watching Barca and Madrid trade success for seven years and look in good shape given they've not lost any major players. But can you really write off the 'big two'?

Well, you shouldn't, according to Stats Perform predictions.

The Stats Perform League Prediction Model, created by Stats Perform AI using Opta data, has analysed the division ahead of the new season to assign percentages to potential outcomes for each club.

The model estimates the probability of each match outcome (win, draw or loss) based on teams' attacking and defensive qualities, which considers four years' worth of results, with weighting based on recency and the quality of opposition. The season is then simulated 10,000 times to calculate the likelihood of each outcome.

Without further ado, let's look at what could occur over the 2021-22 LaLiga season.

 

ANCELOTTI DELIVERS THE GOODS

Carlo Ancelotti's back at the Santiago Bernabeu, and so – it seems – will the Spanish title. The Stats Perform model calculates Madrid have a 42.3 per cent chance of taking the crown back from their local rivals.

In fact, if the model proves accurate, Atletico may not even finish in the top two, as their 18.7 per cent chance is a fair bit smaller than Barca's 30.4 per cent likelihood of winning LaLiga.

However, it's worth pointing out that, because the model is based on historical data points and results, the Barcelona that appears here is one that has had Messi in the team for past 17 years.

It's entirely reasonable to expect Barca to see a significant drop-off given they'll no longer have the greatest player of all time on their books – as such, a 30.4 per cent chance of winning the title might actually be quite generous.

THE BIG FOUR?

The 2020-21 season was the tightest LaLiga title fight in recent memory. Although Atletico were 11 points clear at one point, with five matches left there were just three points separating first from fourth.

In that respect, it was the closest title race LaLiga had ever seen in a 20-team campaign (1987-1995, 1997-present) and the least predictable since 2006-07, when Madrid, Barca and Sevilla could all win the league on the final day of the season.

Sevilla's challenge ultimately faded before that stage in 2020-21 but they've managed to keep Julen Lopetegui, their coach, and their squad is largely unaltered for the time being.

The prediction model makes them fourth favourites for the title (6.8 per cent) and far better placed to take the final Champions League spot (69.4 per cent) for the third year in a row than their likeliest challengers Villarreal (36.2 per cent).

There was a 15-point gap between fourth and fifth last season – this is the closest to a 'big four' Spain has had in years.

 

FOUR TIPPED FOR RELEGATION TUSSLE

Rayo Vallecano, Real Mallorca and Espanyol were the three to come up from the Segunda last season. While most people would ordinarily point to the promoted sides as the most likely to be relegated, the prediction model disagrees.

It gives Mallorca a 30.7 per cent likelihood of going straight back down, and Espanyol are at 17.6 per cent – neither of those are among the bottom three, though Rayo (45.9 per cent) are seen as the second favourites to head back to the second tier.

But it's Elche (57.9 per cent) who are the clear front-runners in this regard, and then it looks agonisingly close for the third and final relegation spot.

According to the predictor, it's likely to be neck-and-neck between Deportivo Alaves (41.1 per cent) and Cadiz (41.9 per cent).

LaLiga has found "no evidence" that Cadiz's Juan Cala racially abused Valencia's Mouctar Diakhaby.

Play was halted during the first half of Sunday's clash between the sides following an altercation involving Cala and Diakhaby, after which the Valencia player and his team-mates left the pitch.

Diakhaby did not return for the remainder of the game, which resumed after a 20-minute delay, while Cala was substituted at half-time.

In a video posted on Twitter, Diakhaby said Cala called him "negro de mierda" which translates as "black s***".

Cala maintained his innocence at a subsequent news conference, insisting he had simply told Diakhaby to "leave me in peace".

The Spanish top-flight's governing body released a statement on Friday after concluding its investigation into the incident, which included the use of lip reading experts.

"After the analysis of the material, it is concluded that no evidence has been found... that the player Juan Torres Ruiz (Juan Cala) insulted Mouctar Diakhaby in the terms denounced," it read.

"Specifically, the audiovisual and digital files available have been examined, the audio of the meeting, the images broadcast and what was disseminated on the different social networks have been analysed.

"In order to complement the report, a specialised company has been hired, which has carried out a lip reading analysis of the conversations and a study of the behaviour of the players Juan Torres Ruiz and Mouctar Diakhaby.

"LaLiga has shared these reports with the clubs involved and the relevant authorities, so that they form part of those ongoing investigations.

"LaLiga reiterates its condemnation against racism in all its forms and maintains its commitment to permanently fight against any type of demonstration in this regard, which has materialised in the presentation of numerous complaints of hate crimes, including as a private accusation, in previous proceedings."

The Spanish Football Federation is also looking into the matter.

Valencia president Anil Murthy has called on LaLiga to do more in the fight against racism after Mouctar Diakhaby was subjected to what he described as an "extremely serious racial insult" against Cadiz.

The top-flight meeting on Sunday – which finished 2-1 to Cadiz – was stopped for 20 minutes after Valencia's players left the field following an altercation between Diakhaby and Cadiz defender Juan Cala.

Valencia's players subsequently walked off the pitch, before returning to the field without Diakhaby, who asked to be taken off.

After the match had restarted, Valencia tweeted their version of events, stating Diakhaby had suffered a "racist insult".

Cadiz issued a statement following the game, insisting any form of racism was not tolerated.

They also added they had no doubts over the honesty of their squad, with Cala having been picked up by television cameras pleading his innocence during the game.

Cadiz coach Alvaro Cervera said: "I saw the same as you did. They left the field alongside the referee because they said that Cala had insulted one of their players.

"Cala says that at no point did he insult the opposition player."

Cadiz confirmed on Monday that Cala would address the media on the subject after training on Tuesday. 

Speaking alongside Diakhaby in a video posted on Valencia's official website, Murthy said: "Yesterday, in our game against Cadiz, we witnessed a flagrant incident of racism. 

"There is no other way to describe it. Our player, Mouctar Diakhaby, was the recipient of an extremely serious racial insult by Juan Cala.

"Although Cala may deny it, we believe Mouctar completely. This type of behaviour should not be tolerated in football and in society in general, and we at Valencia condemn racism in any form. We fully support our player.

"There should be no doubt that Valencia will defend Mouctar Diakhaby to the fullest, and fight to ensure that such lamentable events are not repeated."

Valencia captain Jose Luis Gaya said the team had been told they would be penalised if they did not return to finish the game – a claim backed up by head coach Javi Gracia.

Murthy described Sunday's incident as a "step back in the fight against racism" and has demanded LaLiga change the rules to better protect those who suffer racist abuse.

"We spoke with LaLiga this morning to encourage them to also see their investigation through to the end," he added. "This incident cannot be left behind, and cannot be repeated with any other player for any other team.

"We are saddened that, following the incident, there was no reaction to stop the game, and that it was our players who were the ones to leave the field of play. There cannot be a lack of action in light of these types of situations.

"From now on, we would like to see some kind of reaction to change these protocols, in order to protect those who are vulnerable. If we don't change this, then it will give a bad example to everybody.

"We are proud of the reaction from our team, and we still do not understand why Diakhaby, the recipient of this racial insult, received a yellow card.

"We also do not understand why the players had to return to the pitch due to the regulations not protecting the victims and the team in such cases.

"This must change. Changes have been made in other leagues, and now the same must be done in Spain. 

"We cannot turn a blind eye to something as serious as racism. It is time for a change, and Valencia will go all the way in our support of our player and the fight against racism. A step back in the fight against racism was taken yesterday."

Juan Cala will speak to the media on Tuesday following allegations of racism by Valencia's Mouctar Diakhaby, his club Cadiz have confirmed.

Sunday's LaLiga meeting between the sides – which finished 2-1 to Cadiz – was stopped for 20 minutes after Valencia's players left the field following an altercation between Diakhaby and Cala.

Gabriel Paulista and Kevin Gameiro attempted to defuse the situation before Diakhaby explained his version of events to referee David Medie Jimenez.

Valencia's players subsequently walked off the pitch, before returning to the field without Diakhaby, who asked to be taken off.

After the match had restarted, Valencia tweeted their version of events, stating Diakhaby had suffered a "racist insult".

Following the game, Cadiz issued a statement on their club website, insisting any form of racism was not tolerated.

However, they also added they had no doubts over the honesty of their squad, with Cala having been picked up by television cameras pleading his innocence during the game.

Posting on their official Twitter account on Monday, Cadiz confirmed Cala will address the media following training on Tuesday.

Valencia's players walked off the pitch during their LaLiga meeting with Cadiz after alleged racist abuse was directed towards defender Mouctar Diakhaby.

Sunday's match was stopped after 29 minutes when Valencia captain Jose Luis Gaya led his team from the field.

The incident that sparked Valencia's fury came when Juan Cala – who had opened the scoring – went in for a challenge with Diakhaby.

While initially heading back to his position, Diakhaby suddenly turned and angrily confronted Cala.

Gabriel Paulista and Los Che goalscorer Kevin Gameiro attempted to defuse the situation before Diakhaby explained his version of events to referee David Medie Jimenez. His team-mates then departed in solidarity and play was suspended for 20 minutes before they returned.

Valencia returned without Diakhaby, who was replaced by Hugo Guillamon, but Cala stayed on until he too was substituted at half-time.

The game ended 2-1 to Cadiz, Marcos Mauro scoring an 88th-minute winner.

In a statement from Valencia said: "The team met up and decided to return to the pitch to fight for the badge, but firm in their condemnation of all forms of racism."

Valencia also confirmed that Diakhaby wanted the match to continue, though did not want to carry on playing himself.

"We offer our complete backing to Diakhaby," a tweet read. "The player, who had received a racial insult, requested that his team-mates return to the pitch. We SUPPORT YOU MOUCTAR."

Cadiz did not initially offer a comment though it has been reported that television cameras picked up Cala pleading his innocence. 

According to Gaya, Valencia were told they would forfeit the match if they did not return to the field.

"[Diakhaby] told us he insulted him in a racist way. We went back out to play because they told us they could penalise us with three points and something more," Gaya said, as reported by AFP.

"He asked us to go back. He's gutted, it was a very ugly insult."

Ronald Koeman described Barcelona's failure to beat Cadiz as more disappointing than their Champions League humiliation at the hands of Paris Saint-Germain.

Barca followed up their 4-1 home defeat to PSG in the last 16 first-leg clash on Tuesday with a 1-1 draw in LaLiga against relegation-threatened Cadiz.

Lionel Messi marked his record 506th LaLiga game for the club with a 32nd-minute penalty, but Alex Fernandez levelled from the spot late on after Clement Lenglet was adjudged to have fouled Ruben Sobrino.

The draw meant Barca missed the chance to pull within six points of league leaders Atletico Madrid, who were beaten at home by Levante on Saturday.

"It is disappointing," Koeman said. "These types of games have to be won and we did not.

"It was a great opportunity lost after the loss of Atletico. I am very disappointed, more so than on Tuesday.

"We could not afford to let two points get away. I don't like to blame individual players but we were not up to the task offensively and we have to defend differently. For our quality, we had to win.

"The lead was very narrow and they could equalise at any time, which is what happened. You leave the door open for them to draw at the end if you don't kill the game and score the second.

"It was difficult for us to create opportunities because they were behind the ball and there was no space. We lacked freshness in attack."

Barcelona have failed to keep a clean sheet in eight successive games across all competitions for the first time since 2015.

Despite their issues at the back and the eight-point gap to the summit, Koeman is not giving up hope of Barca posing a serious challenge to Atletico.

"We can still do something," he added. "There is no team that wins games easily.

"But we must recognise that opportunities like this cannot be missed anymore. I don't think it is unforgivable, but it was an opportunity to close the gap.

"[The league] is not more complicated than before. No team is unbeatable, nor are they going to win every game. There are still options. But we have dropped two important points."

Gerard Pique accepted it will be "difficult" for Barcelona to rein in Atletico Madrid at LaLiga's summit after Cadiz snatched a late 1-1 draw at Camp Nou on Sunday.

Atleti's surprise home defeat to Levante a day earlier had given Ronald Koeman's side the chance to move six points behind Diego Simeone's league leaders.

They appeared to be on course to do just that after Lionel Messi marked a club-record 506th league appearance with a 32nd-minute penalty.

Alex Fernandez sealed a dramatic point for the visitors in the 89th minute, though, slamming home from the spot after Clement Lenglet was ruled to have clipped Ruben Sobrino.

The result ended Barca's seven-game winning streak in LaLiga and left them with 47 points after 23 games this season – their lowest tally at this stage of the season since the 2006-07 campaign when they amassed 46 points.

While Pique acknowledged it will not be easy to challenge Atleti for the title, he insisted they will not give up.

"It hurts a lot because Atletico's defeat gave us a chance," he told the club's official TV channel.

"Losing two points is difficult to take. Every game that you do not win, your options are reduced a little. There is an important distance [between Barca and Atleti], not unassailable, but it will depend on the next games. If we get good results, we will have options.

"It's difficult, obviously. We have to try. It's a hard blow. On Wednesday, we have another test against Elche.

"We have to recover our game and feelings because, if not, we could lose more games. We need to raise our heads, improve mentally and win against Elche."

Following the visit of Elche, Barca travel to Sevilla on Saturday.

Barcelona versus Cadiz is not a fixture that particularly stands out on the Spanish football calendar, but Sunday's meeting between the two is momentous for Lionel Messi.

Having played his 505th LaLiga game for Barcelona last weekend against Deportivo Alaves, Messi has now broken a record set by one of Barcelona's most-revered sons.

Xavi retains a legendary status at Camp Nou – his influence during a 17-year career in Barca's senior team was arguably unmatched, as the team was almost constantly built around him as that metronomic hub in midfield.

In the five years since his departure, many midfielders have been signed in the hope they can pick up the slack left behind, but none have successfully replaced him.

He may yet return as coach one day. Indeed, by all accounts it seems he was offered such a chance at least once last year.

But while the legacy of his playing days will remain unblemished, he has lost a slice of Barca history to Messi…

The appearances record

After starting the visit of the Andalusians, Messi moved one clear of Xavi's previous record haul of 505 LaLiga appearances in the Blaugrana.

Like Xavi, it has taken Messi 17 seasons to go beyond 500 outings in Spain's top flight.

But while Xavi opted to depart for a final payday in Qatar with Al-Sadd, whom he now coaches, Messi's career at the very top appears to be far from over.

His penalty in the 4-1 midweek mauling by Paris Saint-Germain took Messi to 20 goals across all competitions for the 13th successive season.

His stunning brace last weekend in the dismantling of Alaves left him on 15 in LaLiga, just one fewer than pacesetter Luis Suarez – it's pretty strong form considering many regard this Messi's worst individual season in over a decade.

 

Messi played his first LaLiga game for the club in 2004-05 before firmly securing himself a place in the first-team squad over the following two campaigns.

Xavi arguably made a slightly quicker impression, his 41 league outings across his first two seasons 17 more than Messi managed.

But Messi's remarkable consistency and longevity are reflected in the fact he has not played fewer than 31 LaLiga games in a single season since 2007-08, when he featured 28 times. The year before he made 26 appearances.

Having surpassed numerous club greats such as Guillermo Amor, Carles Puyol, Victor Valdes and Andres Iniesta along the way, he now moves past the final pillar.

More records to come?

Of course, it almost goes without saying that it's unclear what further LaLiga records Messi will break because his future is so uncertain.

Will he stay? Will he join PSG or Manchester City? 

Given Messi's previous insistence that Barca have to be challenging for titles, on the evidence of this season and their financial state, it's difficult to see them in the hunt for the major honours in the near future.

As such, many will expect him to follow through on his attempt to leave last year when his contract expires at the end of the season.

That shouldn't prevent Messi taking another of Xavi's club records, with the Argentinian just seven behind his former team-mate's 767 Barca appearances across all competitions. No one has made more.

But Messi, who became LaLiga's all-time leading goalscorer long ago, will likely miss out on the chance of setting a new overall league record for appearances.

His 506 is still 116 fewer than Andoni Zubizarreta's 622, with Real Betis midfielder Joaquin – still active at 39 – the closest to the former goalkeeper's record on 568.

Sergio Ramos is the only other active player ahead of Messi on 507, with Athletic Bilbao's Raul Garcia (505) just behind the Barca captain.

Although missing out on such a record would be a minor footnote in an otherwise astonishing career, it's hard to escape from the thought Messi's legacy might be that bit more magical were he to spend all of his playing days at the same club.

Luis Suarez scored a set-piece double as Atletico Madrid saw off Cadiz 4-2 to move 10 points clear at the LaLiga summit.

Real Madrid's shock 2-1 loss to Levante on Saturday provided Atleti with a chance to extend their lead at the top and they did exactly that with victory at Estadio Ramon de Carranza.

Diego Simeone's men had trailed in their last two outings, though Suarez opened the scoring with a sublime free-kick in Sunday's clash before Alvaro Negredo equalised.

Saul Niguez's flicked finish and Suarez's penalty gave Atleti some breathing space and, while Negredo's second of the day did make things interesting, Koke finished smartly late on to make certain of an eighth league win in a row.

Anthony Lozano glanced wide from a promising Cadiz opportunity and, less than three minutes later, Suarez sent a 28-yard free-kick up and over the wall and into the left corner to give Atleti the lead.

Cadiz were level almost instantly thanks to Negredo, who curled a fine finish beyond Jan Oblak after the ball had ricocheted into his path off Thomas Lemar.

The visitors had won only one of their last eight league games prior to Sunday and it did not take Saul long to restore Atleti's lead with a rather fortunate goal.

Lemar sent in a cross from the right and Saul stuck out a leg, seemingly in an attempt to help the ball on, but instead succeeding in sending it looping over Jeremias Ledesma.

Atleti survived another scare before half-time when a penalty initially awarded for handball against Koke was overturned by VAR due to the midfielder's arm being on the ground when contact was made.

That proved a big moment as Simeone's side converted a penalty of their own through Suarez five minutes into the second half after Marcos Mauro brought down Lemar.

Suarez blazed over when on for a hat-trick and that nearly proved costly as Atletico failed to deal with a ball into the box and Negredo scrambled past Oblak to give Cadiz hope.

Oblak then had to be alert to keep out Negredo's header, but the next goal went Atletico's way, substitute Angel Correa exchanging passes with Marcos Llorente and squaring for Koke to round off the scoring.

Yannick Carrasco and Mario Hermoso have tested positive for coronavirus and face a period of self-isolation, Atletico Madrid have announced.

Atletico said on Saturday that the positive results had been returned the previous day and the players have already been isolating at home.

The club have not communicated how long the two players will have to isolate or when they will be expected back in training.

However, both will miss Sunday's trip to Cadiz and are unlikely to face Celta Vigo a week on Monday.

While losing two important players will undoubtedly be a blow to head coach Diego Simeone, his side are sitting pretty at LaLiga's summit.

They have won seven in a row in the league and sat seven points clear of rivals Real Madrid at the top of the table heading into the weekend, with Los Colchoneros also having a game in hand.

Both Hermoso and Carrasco have played 15 out of Atletico's 18 LaLiga matches this term.

Even in these extraordinary times, Barcelona letting Luis Suarez go to Atletico Madrid is starting to look like the oddest decision of the season.

Suarez's double over Eibar on Thursday secured a 2-1 victory for the league leaders, who are seven points clear at the top with a game in hand over champions Real Madrid in second.

The Uruguay star, who has netted six in his past six league games for Atleti, is joint-top of the division's scoring charts alongside former team-mate Lionel Messi.

It seems increasingly likely that Suarez, and certainly Atletico, will be at the top of the tree come the end of 2020-21.

With the majority of sides having now played half of their matches, the Stats Perform AI team have run the numbers to simulate how the rest of the LaLiga campaign will play out – and it's good news for Diego Simeone.

 

The data model estimates the probability of each match outcome – either a win, draw or loss – based on each team's attacking and defensive quality.

Those ratings are allocated based on four years' worth of comprehensive historic data points and results, with more weighting given to recent matches to account for improvements or declines in form and performance trends.

The AI simulation takes into account the quality of the opposition that a team scores or concedes goals against and rewards them accordingly.

All that data is used to simulate upcoming matches using goal predictions from the Poisson distribution – a detailed mathematical model – with the two teams' attacking and defending ratings used as inputs.

The outcome of the season is then simulated on 10,000 different occasions in order to generate the most accurate possible percentage chance of each team finishing in their ultimate league position.

 

ATLETICO WIN AT A CANTER

Atletico have been given a 75.1 per cent chance of winning LaLiga, according to the model.

Simeone's men are predicted to finish on 86 points, nine clear of the rest of the field. They are given just a 17.8 per cent chance of coming second and dropping outside the top four is considered practically impossible.

Barcelona and reigning champions Real Madrid are predicted to end with 77 points apiece, with just a 12.4 per cent chance each of pipping Atleti to the title. Madrid have a 41 per cent chance of finishing second, slightly above Barca's 39.4, having beaten Ronald Koeman's side 3-1 in the first Clasico of the season at Camp Nou last October.

Those two are, at least, very likely to end up in a Champions League place. They are expected to be joined there by Sevilla, who have a 47.8 per cent chance of finishing fourth on 65 points, just three above Villarreal and six clear of Real Sociedad. The remaining European spot is predicted to be a close battle between Granada, Getafe and Real Betis, with Diego Martinez's men odds on to snatch it.

Valencia fans might be enduring a difficult time (again), and our sim has Los Che missing out on European football once more, if only by four points. That said, they still have a 3.6 per cent chance of a Europa League spot, which is better odds than those given to Supercopa de Espana winners Athletic Bilbao.

 

WOE FOR HUESCA

At the other end of a relatively tight table, in which just 11 points will separate seventh from 16th, it looks like Huesca are in for a tough run-in. They are given a 59.7 per cent chance of finishing bottom of the pile and just a 5.1 per cent shot at avoiding relegation, having won only once so far this term.

Osasuna are predicted to end up just four points above them, with the bottom three likely to be completed by Deportivo Alaves, although Elche will also be right in the mix. In fact, with those two tipped to finish level on 39 points, survival could come down to their head-to-head record, making their showdown on May 11 potentially decisive. Elche have the advantage there, having won the reverse game 2-0 away from home.

Real Valladolid are expected to have just enough to stay out of trouble, although they have scant room for manoeuvre, with our predictor giving them an equal 15.1 per cent chance of finishing 17th and 18th.

Eibar and Cadiz are looking likely to stay safe; indeed, Jose Luis Mendilibar's men, along with Celta Vigo and Athletic, are given a 0.1 per cent chance of gatecrashing the top four. They might well have boosted those odds this week were it not for that pesky Suarez.

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